The breezy change in weather brought on by the rains can be a welcome respite from the scorching summer – but it also tends to bring in a wave of health issues. Whether it’s dandruff or a serious medical condition, each of the following monsoon-related issues can be avoided with the help of some evidence-based information.
Here’s why they occur, along with basic preventative measures that can be taken against them.
These include colds, coughs and inflammation in the respiratory tract, and can be caused by bacteria, fungi and (especially) viruses.
Although airborne viruses tend to survive better on surfaces when there’s low humidity, tropical countries like India, conversely, appear to have an increased occurrence of colds, coughs and other respiratory tract infections during the monsoon season- when humidity is at its peak.
An accepted (and the most likely) explanation for this paradox is that closed spaces have lower relative humidity, which favours the infections. With people spending more time indoors during the rains, the chances of catching and spreading an airborne infection would also increase. Another factor could be the temperature-lowering effect of the monsoon, which may make one more susceptible to infections.
Water and food borne diseases
Unlike airborne viruses, microorganisms find it easier to grow on surfaces (and foods) when there’s high humidity in the environment and an abundance of water – both of which are brought on by the monsoon.
Given the nature of rain water to flow almost unrestrainedly, water that contains infectious microorganisms can potentially infect the water we use for washing or cooking food. That’s even true for all sorts of foods or drinks.
Once consumed through these any of these routes, the microorganisms reach our digestive system, causing any variety of infections. This could translate to something as mild as an upset stomach that’s easily resolved in a few days; sometimes, though, one could end up with a severe medical condition like jaundice. Both the hepatitis A and hepatitis E viruses can cause jaundice and, although they are commonly observed in India through the year, these viruses are especially prevalant during the monsoon.
Vector borne diseases
‘Vectors’ are carriers that transport infections without getting infected themselves. The most common of these in the Indian context are malaria, dengue and chikungunya.
The mosquitoes that transmit these three diseases breed in stagnant water, which is easily found during the monsoon. It’s also believed that the rampant construction taking place across cities in India creates pools of water ideal for mosquitoes to breed.
Skin and hair issues
People largely associate the monsoon and its increased humidity with hair that’s frizzy and difficult to manage, but other hair and even issues are also quite common during this season.
Fungi grow better in high humidity, especially with the absence of direct sunlight. Damp clothing can keep parts of our skin just wet enough for fungi to grow, and covered body parts (such as our feet, groin and underarms) tend to make their conditions ideal. Wet shoes and clothes, both par for the course this time of year, make these infections fairly common.
Higher humidity is also conducive to dandruff and is, incidentally, believed to explain the higher occurrence of this condition within India’s coastal regions.
Reading about these conditions may give one the impression that the monsoons are fraught with danger, but most, if not all, can be easily avoided with basic preventive steps.
- Wash your hands and maintain hygiene. While this is by no means exclusive to the monsoon season, it helps prevent infectious agents from entering our bodies when we eat.
- Dry off well after a shower, and change out of damp clothes after the gym (or getting caught in the rain).
- Avoid potentially-contaminated food and water by sticking to known, hygienic sources, and stick to bottled water when in doubt.
- Wash fruits and vegetables well.
- Avoid uncooked or even stale food when outside, especially on the street. Most microorganisms are killed in freshly cooked food, and it’s uncooked food, or food that has been prepared and stored unhygienically for a long time, that tends to make us sick.
- Don’t let water get stored in your surroundings. Ensure that potted plants, balconies and terraces do not have stagnant pools of water.
Finally, if you feel under the weather with a fever or an upset stomach, it’s best to visit your doctor without delay. Many of these conditions can be treated quite easily, and the sooner you get professional medical advice, the faster you can get back to enjoying the beauty and the mood of the monsoon.